Using better questions to disrupt yourself

Uschi Schreiber,

Chair, Global Accounts Committee & Global Vice Chair, Markets at EY

More about the author

As Global Vice Chair, Markets, Uschi is a member of EY’s global executive board and responsible for the firm’s integrated go-to-market approach. She is a board member of the Women in Parliaments Global Forum and sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.


Even industries once considered impervious to business disruption are now feeling its effects. How should organizations react? By disrupting themselves first

Business disruption goes to the heart of an organization’s identity. However, embracing disruption requires organizations firstly to ask the questions that can serve as a catalyst for change.

As Hal Gregersen from the MIT Leadership Center explained at EY’s Innovation Realized retreat, people get stuck because they ask the wrong questions. By exploring challenges without jumping to preconceived conclusions, we can think more creatively and arrive at better solutions.

And this process requires a powerful tool: better questions. But what does this mean for companies dealing with disruption today? 

Rapid and accelerating pace of change

Time is not always on our side and we tend to miscalculate the speed of revolutions. In assessing the costs, benefits and risks of investments, we often make comparisons in the context of a world similar with today.  But the world is always changing – and change is never a constant. In fact, today’s change is accelerating at an extraordinary rate.

We’re seeing unprecedented disruption across all industries. Take a look at the turnover rate of Fortune 1000 companies since 1973. By 1983, about one-third of these had fallen off the list. By 2013, 70% of them were replaced by new ones. This pace of change will likely continue to increase – only one third of today’s major corporations are expected to survive the next 25 years.

Disrupting technology

This turnover rate clearly shows how many organizations have failed to see and grasp the changes occurring around them. Disruption no longer emerges just from Silicon Valley. Disruption hits every industry and can come from across the globe. With sophisticated algorithms, technology is a key driver that is already disrupting sectors once considered untouchable such as health care, transportation, entertainment, and legal and professional services.

The journey of disruption


More and more businesses are responding to this change through self-disruption. 

At EY’s 2016 Innovation in San Francisco, we saw a growing trend for big corporations to build small teams that act as internal disruptors. These teams have the freedom to think out of the box, challenge prevailing corporate paradigms and function as intra-preneurs who build whole new business streams. The idea is not new. But the limited prevalence of these teams and their restricted flexibility severely limit their value to their corporations. 

Leadership support

Disrupting a business model requires organizations to learn from those who do it well and be aware of the constraints they face. Importantly, the self-disruption model requires full-throated support from the top. Management must invest a combination of money, time and resources to institute this change. And most importantly, internal disruptors need explicit leadership backing when things go wrong or are disputed.

The first, and most important, step in self-disruption is challenging long-held assumptions over fundamental matters: what your business is, and who your customers and competitors are. 

Asking better questions

The next step is asking questions before deciding where to take action. At EY’s Innovation Retreat, Dr Stefan Heck, a Consulting Professor at Stanford University and CEO of NAUTO - the Palo Alto-based smart car and urban mobility company - asked the audience an interesting question which could be a great starting point for self-disruption: “Which part of your business is already redundant but nobody talks about it?”

Here are some more questions to consider when planning your self-disruption:

  1. What business are you in?
  2. What is your purpose?
  3. What data do you have and where is it?
  4. What technology infrastructure do you need now and in the future?
  5. Who is your customer?
  6. What is your value proposition – now and in future?
  7. Who are your competitors?
  8. What’s the risk of standing still?

Start your journey

Use these questions as a starting point on your journey. They can serve as a powerful catalyst for change. By asking the right questions, you can determine how your organization positions itself in a rapidly evolving business landscape, and also how your processes and culture will need to adapt. With better questions, you can stay ahead of the curve – and ahead of the competition.


To discover more about the themes discussed and questions explored at EY’s Innovation Realized retreat, follow #BetterQuestions.


This article originally appeared as a blog on LinkedIn under the headline ‘Using Better Questions to Disrupt Yourself